February 25, 2022

The Other Mr. President

Stories about Vladimir Putin. Did he come to power in 1999 by killing hundreds of innocent Russians? How’s he really seen in his home country? This show is a mix of old and new stories we’ve done about him. 

Maxim Fomenko

An updated version of an episode from 2017.



Late at night on the evening Russia invaded Ukraine, Ira talks to two people who escaped to Lviv, near the Polish border: a woman we call Natalie, and the Ukraine Correspondent for The Economist, Richard Ensor. Natalie’s harrowing story about escaping Kyiv is not the sort of war story that makes you think, "I can't imagine what it'd be like to go through that.” In fact it’s just the opposite. For anyone who’s ever lived in a sizable city, it’s shockingly, instantly easy to imagine, because every moment of her story happens in such familiar sorts of places. (11 minutes)

Act One

Going In with a Bang

Back in 1999 there was series of bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and across Russia. 300 people died. It happened just as Vladimir Putin was coming to power. And there was a question whether Putin or other people in the Kremlin might have been involved.  Producer Robyn Semien talked to reporters who covered the bombings and reviewed the evidence. (20 minutes)

Act Two

Mr. Popular

Vladmir Putin’s approval rating among Russians is always stunningly high. Ira talks to reporter Charles Maynes to find out if that number is real and how it could be that high. Then Charles talks to a Putin supporter who explains why she loves her president. (10 minutes)

Act Three

Maybe Pay a Little Attention to the Man behind the Curtain

Disinformation and propaganda works differently in Putin’s Russia than it did during the Soviet Union. Instead of tamping down the opposition, the Russian government works to control the opposition. Producer Sean Cole introduces us to Putin’s former right hand man who was credited with inventing this new way of controlling information. One of the journalists Sean speaks to in this story is Peter Pomerantsev. He’s the author of the book, "Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia." (15 minutes)

Act Four

A Matter of Principal

Protestors came out across Russia after the Ukraine invasion. In this act, that we first broadcast in 2017, we hear from young people who attended anti-government protests that swept through Russia. After the protests, teenagers posted videos online of their teachers lecturing them about the protests and the kids arguing back. Ira talks to reporter Joshua Yaffa about a video that one student filmed in the town of Bryansk. (7 minutes)

Joshua Yaffa wrote about the protest and the video for The New Yorker.


“Russia, Russia (Lay That Missile Down)” by Prescott Reed